Saturday, January 31, 2004

Sorry for my long delay - I tried to de-frag my computer, which didn't work, so I just re-set all my defaults, which seems to work ok so far. Again, not much baseball news to talk about, but the overwhelming theme here in the Houston area is The Super Bowl. There's a lot of NFL-related activities going on in The Woodlands, too, which has officially been designated Football Town, USA for the weekend. Honest. In fact, all the CBS guys are staying about 2 minutes from where I work. Too bad Jim Nantz or Dan Marino or Deion Sanders don't want tennis lessons, because I'd probably be the one to give it to them.

The game itself may not be the most exciting Super Bowl ever, but I think it should be low-scoring and close. In the end, though, I think both teams stop the run but Tom Brady is just a little bit better than Jake Delhomme, so the Patriots win, 13-10.

Now that I'm getting on-line again, Drew should send me Round 2 of The Sandman's Tournament pretty soon, so look for it.

Enjoy the game tomorrow!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

I finally got my certification from the USPTA yesterday: I'm an official tennis teaching professional now. I was ranked as a Professional-2, but if I retake the exam I only have to re-do the group and private lessons, which are notoriously difficult to get a Professional-1 score on. Now I have to decide whether I should stick with the racquets and clothes that I've been wearing or "sell out" and sign a contract to use only HEAD racquest and wear LOTTO clothing while I teach, in return for getting all that stuff for free. It's a tough one, since I have to send my contract in by Saturday and I've never played with a HEAD racquet in my life, though I do have a demo racquet on the way (should be here any minute now).

In other news, I'm ready for Round 2, Drew. Let's rumble.

P.S. Marat Safin is back. He's now taken out 5 (!!) Americans in the Aussie Open: Vahaly, Martin, Blake, Roddick, Agassi. Whoa.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Jason's detailed explanation:

"Food is my Scrabble" - Barstool
Mom talks about her Scrabble (or lack thereof):

"Hi Jack!
I bet you don't get many responses from your (legions of) female readers revealing their personal obsessions. Why not? Because we ladies just don't think that way. We do obsess, but about personal and (practical) stuff: food, clothing, and shelter. You see, it's All about Us, and our loved ones (an extension of Us). We are under-represented in the highest levels of competion in cerebral games (chess, Scrabble, bridge) not because we don't have the brainpower, but because those things are just too removed from our personal lives ...we're not willing to devote our energy to things that are so abstract. We'll use our analytical skills to find the best bargains, learn to prepare the most delicious and nutritious recipes, or dissect the intimate lives of our friends. All close to home. You guys, on the other hand, seem to need to escape from "home" (and from Us???!) by obsessing about sports and politics, or daydreaming about space exploration (about as far away as you can get!) Perhaps this has something to do with why you fellas enjoy fantasy the world so much, whether in sports leagues, epic movies, video games, or erotica.
That's all I have to say about that.
madre. "

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Not much baseball news lately, so let's try something new. I just finished Word Freak, this awesome book about Scrabble. Yep: Scrabble. It's not really a book about strategy or how to improve - basically, a Wall Street Journal reporter took a year off from work to become a full-time Scrabble player. This has happened before in other fields - I'm almost sure a guy who was doing a report on the World Series of Poker entered the $10,000 event and made it to the final table. This book doesn't quite have such a happy ending - the guy, Stefan Fatsis, becomes an above-average but not expert player - but the characters he profiles are fascinating. None of them are normal, and Fatsis theorizes that for anyone to become an expert Scrabble player - which requires hours memorizing words, practicing anagrams, and memorizing more words - you have to be a little obsessive about the game. But this got me to thinking, if this is true for Scrabble, wouldn't it be true for anything, really? Am I obsessed with the Astros? With tennis? With video games? With Keira Knightley?

I think we all have our 'Scrabble', in one form or another, whether it's a sport, a game, a hobby...whatever. If you want, IM me with whatever fascinates you, and I'll post results tomorrow.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Lots of hella good Astros news to talk about this weekend. Let's jump right in:

Tim Redding was officially named the 5th starter a few days ago by manager (and JT's nemesis) Jimy, "One M" Williams. I love this move. I was terrified that Jeriome Robertson would be named the 5th starter because of his insanely lucky 15-9 record last year. Taking out the wins and losses, which pitcher would you rather have:

Pitcher A

160.2 IP 180 Hits 23 HR's 64 BB 99 K's 5.10 ERA 1.52 WHIP

Pitcher B

176 IP 179 Hits 16 HR's 65 BB 116 K's 3.68 ERA 1.39 WHIP

There's no comparison between these two guys. Pitcher B is better in every category. Tim Redding is much better than Jeriome Robertson, and younger too.

While I'm talking about Robertson, I really think our best bet is to trade him ASAP, while his 15 games won in his rookie year! sheen hasn't worn off yet. Even after we lose Clemens next year we should have much better options in Carlos Hernandez, the eternally underrated Kirk Saarloos, Brandon Duckworth, and maybe even Taylor Bucholz ready to go. What, exactly, do we trade him for? Bench help or prospects.

With the Astros lineup currently looking like this:


there's a good chance that we'll get a sub-750 OPS out of the bottom three hitters EVERY DAY. Jason Lane and Orlando Palmeiro will hopefully get the bulk of PH at-bats, with the rest going to...Jose Vizcaino. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Jose Vizcaino should be your last option off the bench. I admit, he's had some big hits. Hell, I saw him take Mark Friggin' Prior deep. But he hasn't posted a 350 OBP in 8 years, and he's NEVER posted a 400 SLG. He's about to be 36 years old. He is not a guy I want up frequently in late game situations. We need a backup corner IF with some power. A guy like Russell Branyan, even though he strikes out in half of his at-bats, would have been nice. Surely a guy like Robertson could bring in someone like that. If not, the Astros farm system isn't exactly loaded. A prospect or two would be great.

Finally, we're supposed to sign Dave Veres soon. I'm ok with this signing; Veres is 37, and his ERA jumped up to 4.68 last year, but his K rate is steady, and he's death on lefties. My only concern is this might over-crowd the bullpen. Here's everyone that's got a chance to make it:

Dotel (lock)
Lidge (lock)
Ricky Stone (should be a lock)
Dan Miceli (probably a lock)
Dave Veres (probably a lock)

I might even be forgetting someone. Those first five guys are all righties; I'm sure we're going to have at least one lefty. It's possible they're signing Veres so that we have a lefty-killer so we can carry all righties, but I kinda doubt it. So that leaves two out of the last five that I listed to make the bullpen (we'll carry 12 pitchers max, and we've got our 5 starters), and I'm betting at least one will be a lefty (Roberston / Hernandez / Gallo), so that means that either Duckworth or Saarloos get left out. I guess having so many bullpen options is not a terrible problem to have, but I want Duckworth and Saarloos on the team. I think Dan Miceli should be the odd man out - I wish we hadn't re-signed him. My ideal bullpen would then be:

Dotel (closer)
Lidge (main set-up)
Duckworth (secondary set-up)
Stone (righty-killer)
Veres (lefty-killer)
Saarloos (middle relief / 6th starter)
Hernandez (middle relief / 6th starter / LHP)

Wow. That's a pretty damn good bullpen, if I say so myself. Just bump Miceli, trade off Roberston for a lefty bat...holy crap.

Finally, I know I always say the Astros could have done some things better, but the reality is we've had an awesome off-season. I can't wait for the season to start.

Take care, peoples.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Nicole hijacks my blog again, to talk about TV and other assorted things:

"Somewhere in LA, the last episode ever of Friends is being filmed today. The one-hour episode will air May 6 after a one-hour retrospective. It’s likely that the show will set a record for the sixth straight season as the highest-rated comedy on television. Still not impressed? To note the significance of the show, thirty second ads for the finale are reportedly being sold for $2 million! Now that’s almost as much as companies shell out for Super Bowl commercials. However, the shortened season means the inevitable reruns. It’s almost February sweeps, so I can hold out. On the other hand, NBC pulled through this week with a new episode of Scrubs.

Now there is something I have noticed about scrubs…they are big. A few years ago I got a pair of scrub pants for a sorority thing and although I ordered the smallest size, I think I could fit three of me in there. When I worked in a hospital, the “small” scrubs still dragged on the floor and were not at all attractive (somehow on TV they manage to get ones that fit…hmmm, not so real) Anyway, this brings me to a disturbing fact. Women’s clothing stores are doing a very bad thing: they are changing the size of their clothes. “Why is this bad?” you ask. Well, I will tell you. It means people are getting fatter. Stores want people to buy clothes so they make the big clothes have smaller sizes to make the fat people feel better about themselves and think that they wear the same size they did ten years ago. And therein lies the problem. If the big clothes have the small sizes, the clothes that used to be the small sizes are no longer existent. For someone like me this is unbelievably frustrating because I can no longer buy anything in normally priced stores…it kinda takes the fun out of shopping.

Luckily some things are still fun. One of these is going to see a very good Vandy basketball game (I believe this was mentioned a few days ago) The Vandy/Florida game was by far the best I have been to in a long time. In addition, the conclusion has been made that the top balcony in Memorial (on the student side) is The Place to watch a game. And to celebrate the victory, nothing less than Maggie Moo’s (yes in January) and some rousing video games would be acceptable."

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Sorry for the one-day hiatus. It's been a busy tennis-filled week for me. This afternoon I've been watching some of the Australian Open, including a match between Mark Phillipoussis and Fabrice Santoro. These two guys are probably as different as two athletes can be: Phillipoussis is a 'hunk' (according to Mom) - 6'5'', muscular, huge serve, huge forehand. Santoro, on the other hand, is about 5'8'', agile, all touch, angle, and guile. It's a great matchup, and it's inspiring to watch, kinda like watching a tennis version of 'Rudy'. Santoro takes the first set, then Phillipoussis comes back to win, but it's still awesome. There's more to life than power and strength. Try a drop shot every now and then.

I think Drew's about through with The Tournament, Round Two, and I believe Nicole's got another guest column planned, so keep visiting the next few days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

And now for something completely different...

There has been a lot of news devoted lately to the news that "Mankind is going back into outer space!" and so on. I have to admit that I was initially excited by this. I mean, we could make new discoveries, broaden our horizons, look beyond small, insignificant, Earthly problems...except, it doesn't really work that way.

Here's why, according to Dr. Bill Wade (a.k.a. Pa)

Take me to the stars: why???
I'd like to play devil's advocate about the recent proposal to send a man to Mars by 2020, without reference to any of the political overtones of who's proposing it & why. I have one elementary question:

Can anyone please cite me a single concrete reason why we should do this?—to send humans on a return trip to the moon & thence on to Mars? To me, it is painfully apparent that we have no true justification, only excuses.

The excuses I've heard so far are three:

1. "One step at a time": we need to send men back to the moon so as to use it as a launching pad for Mars.
- Unh hunh: & the reason for going on to Mars then would be why?.....

2. "We need new worlds to conquer": gotta keep striving. Personkind needs to reach for the stars, or we will wither up.
- To what extent have we as a species withered in consequence of not returning to the moon these past 25 years? This is an airy-fairy virtual admission that there is no rationale beyond high-falutin' rhetoric.

3. "We need new worlds to destroy": we're laying waste to Earth, so we better be ready to move on.
- Is this not the drug addict's explanation as he panhandles for money for the next fix?—is it not far wiser to give up the habit entirely? Even so, we can better use those bucks to help stop our laying waste to the Earth. Is that not the more useful & noble task? I think so.

Just for practice, perhaps someone can cite one reason why we went to the moon in the first place? And by a reason, I mean a justification in & of itself, nearly merely because we felt compelled to be there prior to any Russians. As best I can tell, the only candidate explanations are so that: a) Neil Armstrong could deliver a noble one-liner—oops, he blew it: he meant to say "small step for A man", & b) so that Alan Shepard could set the world (sic) record for distance on a golf shot.

In contrast, I can supply you with ample concrete reasons why it is wise not to include human beings in our space exploration endeavors for the time being. But the two strongest arguments—deaths & unneccessary expense—should suffice to keep our feet on the ground for now.

I'm more than open to a future policy change if & when the stars are better aligned; in fact I can promise that—no longer being here—I will not utter a single word against it.

I know it's alluring to have something like the first man setting foot on Mars during one's lifetime. I know many of you young folks would not only enjoy seeing a man reach Mars, but feel slighted that the moon missions were over & done before you were born, & would perhaps feel even more slighted if Mars was never reached during your lifetime. I'm one of many millions fortunate enough to have watched the moon landing on tv. But I don't believe that our government should throw money at every program that might make me or you or other Americans feel good. I believe that part of maturity is learning to accept that there are feel-good goals not worth their price. And for what it's worth, remember that Americans quickly got over the excitement of the moon landings in the 1970's & paid essentially no attention to the later missions, aside from Apollo XIII's near non-survival. In the absence of a true compelling purpose, such things are simply not all that you dream they will be.
Ultra fast road trip recap: Drive up good. McDonald's good. Sports bar good. New England-Indy game bad. Sunshine Wheat beer good. JT's computer good at first. Then bad. Then worse. Carolina-Philly game bad. JT's computer still damn bad. Sleep good. JT's computer fixed! Wait, no, still bad. Watching tennis good. Watching tennis in 30 degree wind chill bad. Chili's good. Drive back good. JT's computer good, after 12 straight hours of work on it.

So yeah, it was fun.

The Astros made a couple of moves today, agreeing to terms with Wade Miller (3.4 million), Roy Oswalt (3.25 million), and Octavio Dotel (2.8 million). I had earlier hypothesized that both Miller and Oswalt would earn 2.5 million and Dotel would get 3 million, but one reason Miller and Oswalt made more money is that Kip Wells, a young pitcher with similar (but lesser) stats, got 2.575 million from the Pirates. One minor downside to signing both Pettitte and Clemens is that it prevents the Astros from signing, say, Oswalt to something like a 4 year, 20 million dollar deal, which would rock. But that's small beer. I think Dotel for 2.8 million is a steal, and that after a 40 save, 2.00 ERA year, his value will suddenly skyrocket and we'll probably lose him to free agency. But we've got Lidge ready to replace him, although he did struggle near the end of last year. All three of these deals are fine by me, and avoiding arbitration, during which a club has to put together a case against a player being too valuable, is always nice. On a side note, Baseball Prospectus disagrees with me with respect to Orlando Palmeiro. They have listed him as one of the best free agent signings of the off season, saying that he's an excellent fielder, posts a solid OBP, and can still run well. That is all true, but they're ignoring his HR-every-300-AB's power. I confess, though, we do need a LH bat, and although I'd prefer Travis Lee or Fred McGriff or (thanks, JT) Jeremy "Little" Giambi, Palmeiro is better than nothing (a.k.a, Jose Vizcaino).

Prospectus also likes the Clemens signing, since Clemens was (according to SNWAR...don't worry about it) the 20th best pitcher in baseball last year, and we got him for 5 million (3.4 deferred). So the signings of Pettitte, Clemens, and Palmeiro outweigh the initially bad signings of Vizcaino and Ausmus. It's been a down-then-up kinda offseason, but I like our chances next year.

Coming soon: Drew's Tournament, Round Two.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I'm leaving for College Station for a weekend of football and friends soon, so I gotta be brief. But first:

HOW 'BOUT THEM COMMODORES? #23 Vanderbilt beat #11 Florida, 86-72, last night. Vandy had lost two straight SEC games on the road, and we really needed this one. It was close until we went on an 18-4 run early in the 2nd half, and we pretty much cruised from there. Matt Freije had 23 pts, Mario Moore had 21, and Corey Smith hit some big 3's during the run. It looked like an awesome scene at the end of the game, with students storming the court, something that I love to see but have only done twice, I believe, both freshman year: once against LSU, and once against Tennessee. I'll always remember the one against Tennessee because 1) they're our biggest rivals, 2) they were ranked #4 coming in and 3) the game ended on an alley-oop pass to Dan Langhi (Vandy's best player), who absolutely SLAMMED it home as time expired. Man, that was awesome. I can't even really describe it. Sheer pandemonium.

I won Poker Night last night, mostly thanks to this crazy, crazy hand. I'll assume you guys know how to play Texas Hold 'Em - if not, look it up real fast. Anyway, I'm dealt pocket aces - AA. The flop comes A, J, 2, all offsuit. The two guys ahead of me (Matt and Brandon) both bet. I go all in. I mean, COME ON. 3 of a kind aces. THEY BOTH CALL. I couldn't believe it. Matt flips over his pocket 22. Brandon flips over his pocket JJ. WE ALL HAD THREE OF A KIND AFTER THE FLOP. The odds of that are...staggering. Seriously. Anyway, another J or 2 didn't fall, I win big, and then slowly wear down Todd from there, getting lucky on the last hand to finish him off. Man, poker is fun.

Well, that's it for now. Round 2 of The Sandman's Tournament should be up pretty soon. Until then, watch a lot of football!

P.S. My padres and I always listen to The Puzzler on NPR on Sunday mornings. Here's today's: Take the name 'Nestor'. Using any letter in the name as many times as you can, make a 12 letter word. Hint: it's not a plural. For example, the name 'Seurat' makes 'restaurateur'. Somehow I got this one in like 10 seconds, though I don't know how.

Go Colts!

Saturday, January 17, 2004

The Sandman’s Uber-Supreme Championship of Toughness

What follows is the first round of The Tournament. I was sitting down trying to think of something I could write about for Jack’s blog. I needed something that I knew pretty well, toughness, and something that I could have fun doing (researching toughness and tournaments). So I skipped class to do some research and write up this monster. I’m sure some will disagree with the results, but keep in mind, I did research for a whole three hours, which means that I know more than you and my word is law. So shut your yapper and eat it! Anyway, some of you will find obvious omissions from the tournament, and I am sorry. Chuck Norris and Wesley Snipes definitely belong here, but I forgot. Besides, I give a reason for leaving old Chucky out later in the tournament. Keep in mind, this is real toughness, not movie toughness. While I do occasionally draw from the movies in my analysis, this is purely an entertainment aspect. If movie toughness was considered, Harrison Ford would be in here due to his feats as Indiana Jones and Han Solo. I hope you enjoy, and I’ll talk to you again when I write up the second round.

Vin Diesel vs. Mr. T
This match can be called the Battle of the Bouncers. Yes, both of the fighters were bouncers at one time in their lives. However, Mr. T once received the award of America’s Toughest Bouncer. I don’t believe I ever recall Vin Diesel winning this award. Let’s look at Vin for a bit. Besides the whole bouncer gig, he doesn’t really have any formal training. True, he is a big as an ox, but so is Mr. T. While Vin grew up in a fairly pampered life, Mr. T grew up in the ghetto takin’ care o’ his momma. The worst thing Diesel ever did was vandalize a theater, which led him to majoring in the second-most wussy subject in college, English. That’s right Jack, it’s a good thing you didn’t major in English, else I’d have to dub you Señor Pansy. A minor isn’t quite so damning. This fight gets ugly when Diesel calls up Mr. T’s momma in his former job as a telemarketer. This bothers the Mother of Jibba Jabba, and sends Mr. T into a rage. That’s right, Mr. T uses his skills as a former Chicago wrestling champion to rip Vin Diesel a new one. Hell, I pity that fool.

Clint Eastwood vs. John Wayne
Here it is ladies and gentlemen! Or should I say, lady? I have a feeling that Nicole may be the only female reading this thing. When I first sat down looking at this matchup, I thought it would be a huge rumble. However, one of these guys is putting up an enormous front. He may look hella tough, and he may be pretty über in most of his movies. However, thinking that a movie career as a tough man would lead people to believe that the Spy Kids were tough. It just ain’t so. Clint Eastwood is a huge letdown. He’s super-polite, and a really nice guy. Hell, that was his original role in Rawhide. The people who cast him in that role saw him walking down the hall, and they decided that he looked nice enough to play the character. How the hell is THAT guy gonna beat John Wayne? While they both played cowboys, John Wayne really was one in his youth. Also, while Dirty Harry was possibly Eastwood’s toughest role, John Wayne was actually the original choice of the moviemakers. Eastwood has always been second fiddle to Wayne, and that’s just going to be the way it’s gonna stay. John Wayne walks up to Clint Eastwood’s plush hotel room and beats the hell out of his bodyguard in one punch, just like when he did the same to Frank Sinatra’s bodyguard. Sorry Clint, you’re gonna have to as YOURSELF one question, and it isn’t “Do I feel lucky?”

Alexander Karelin vs. Hulk Hogan
This interesting matchup pits the world of professional wrestling against the world of Olympic wrestling. Unfortunately, that means comparing a real sport to a fake one. Granted Hulk Hogan is HUGE, but he’s doing it all under a script. I’ll give him his due respect though: wrestling, while fake, is incredibly tough. Those guys endure intense punishment to get out and perform every week, and Hulkamania’s been around a long time. Hogan’s been taking abuse to his body since he was a little pudgy kid getting beat up by bullies. The 6-time WWF/WCW/WWE champion has earned the right to be in this tournament, no doubt about it. Hell, he bodyslammed Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania II to really kick professional wrestling’s popularity into high gear. However, while Andre was a huge man, he wasn’t less than 5% body fat, which is what his enormous competitor is. Karelin is also a multi-champion. He won the Olympics so many times I can’t even remember how many there were. He hadn’t even been scored on in a decade. While he did lose recently to a guy almost 20 years younger than him in the most recent games, that was because his hands came apart about an inch for a split second. In a real fight, that’s not going to be the end of it. I’m sorry, but Mr. Nanny (in his pink tutu) are going to be reverse body lifted by the Russian Bear. While the Hulkster has taken multiple pile-drivers, he’s never had a real move performed on him by this beast.

Jackie Chan vs. Jet Li
Here we have the match from the East. Two Chinese action stars coming to battle it out. The Drunken Master vs. The One. Jet Li received his training at the Wushu Academy in Beijing, while Jackie Chan learned his fighting skills in the Seven Fortunes, which trained in an opera school. Li went on to become the Chinese national champion, while Chan learned all about gymnastics, martial arts, and theater. Yep, this looks like it’s going to be a good one… Wait a minute! No it doesn’t! Sorry, let me repeat myself. Jet Li, national champion, vs. Jackie Chan, graduate of opera school. I looked high and low for more of Jackie’s training, but he received it all at the school. While it did eventually make him become one of the greatest stuntmen and action entertainers of all time, I don’t think Jet Li is going to be impressed. Unless Chan can find a couple strange objects lying around, let’s just say he found a Skip-It and a ladder, he stands no chance. My guess is that Chan starts frantically looking for some props, but Li, who’s obviously become familiar with Chan’s style through watching his plethora of movies, will not let him get anywhere close to anything that could be used by Chan. Jackie better fight as the Drunken Master, because that’s the only way he’s going to be saved from the pain of the beating he’s about to get.

Steven Seagal vs. Dolph Lundgren
Finally, we have a good match! Once again, let’s compare the fighters. Both are masters of their fighting styles, Seagal in Aikido and Lundgren in Karate. Both have worked as bodyguards. Both have won championships, with Seagal winning the Aikido championships in Japan and Lundgren winning the European karate heavyweight championship. I’ll have to admit, I didn’t want to give either of these fighters too much respect. Seagal has become a joke as of late, and Lundgren… well, let’s just say that I don’t respect a guy who gets the crap kicked out of him in virtually every movie that he’s ever been in. The tide began to shift Seagal’s way when I learned about his previous wins over other tough guys. Yes, Steven was hired to train none other than James Bond himself, Sean Connery, during the filming of a Bond movie. He must have gotten a little pissed at his accent though, because he ended up breaking the Scotsman’s wrist. However, shouldn’t a martial arts expert be able to control his body well enough to prevent himself from hurting the ones around him? Perhaps this means that his skill was slipping a bit. Lets look at how these two guys aged. Seagal has become a fat man who gets no respect in the movies anymore. His mind is also slipping a bit with his tendency to write in incredibly bad lines in his environmentally-friendly movies. Where’s the guy who could kick the hell out of a bunch of sailors with a butcher’s knife? Dolph, on the other hand, was the team captain of the US pentathlon team for the Olympics in the 90s. The pentathlon is arguably the toughest event in the Olympics, and Dolph had to have kept himself in pretty good shape to keep up with this. The match plays out like this. Dolph brings the woodchipper from the movie Universal Soldier, in which he met his unfortunate end inside. While fighting, Seagal gets his ridiculous ponytail stuck in it and gets sucked in. He’s already proved that he can’t hold on too long. He got sucked out of that plane in Executive Decision. Do you think that He-Man couldn’t have held on?

Sylvester Stallone vs. Bruce Willis
Alright, that last match was way too long, so I won’t waste too much space with writing up the featherweight match of the first round. Sure, both of these guys play tough guys in almost all of their movies, but Clint Eastwood showed that movie roles don’t amount to much in this tournament. Sorry, but Bruce Willis has no chance. He has no training in any fighting skill, and while he’s shown his toughness by walking across glass barefooted, Rocky could take a hell of a beating as well. Stallone didn’t have any formal training either, but he did learn how to box a little bit in the Rocky movies. His trainers even said that he was really pretty good at it… a natural! Hell, he used those skills to beat Dolph Lundgren and Mr. T, both of whom are in this tournament. While we’re speaking of movie roles, why don’t we talk about one. Did you know that the Arnold Schwarzenegger was supposed to be the lead in Die Hard? He turned it down. The next choice was Stallone. He also turned it down. Lowly Bruce Willis was the third choice. Granted, he was fantastic, but the THIRD choice?!?!? I’ll say this match goes to the only man who has shown real toughness, by being voted the most likely to end up in the electric chair in high school. Sly wins this one before anyone has time to sit down.

Bruce Lee vs. Jean-Claude Van Damme
I’ll be honest with you. When I first sat down to analyze this fight, I figured it would be another blow out. How will a spandex-wearing pretty boy beat out the man voted as the greatest martial artist of the 20th Century? However, the Frenchman is not all that wimpy. Like Lundgren, Van Damme won the European karate championship. He won it in the middleweight division. He then went on to try to win the US championships. He lost. However, he was very determined. He later challenged his defeater to another match and beat him in less than two minutes. This is oddly familiar to the plot from the Bruce Lee biography movie. For those who haven’t seen it, go out and watch it! Van Damme has also had some pretty good movie toughness. Bloodsport and Kickboxer were hella tough! Hell, Van Damme was even originally supposed to play the Predator in the movie… uh… Predator. Arnold would have had his hands full if that would have been the case. Unfortunately, Van Damme was fired from his job, probably due to his wild behavior, which has led to some DUI incidents. Anyway, let’s look at how these guys are linked together. Actually, they’re the first two of the three guys in this tournament that are part of what I want to call, the Norris Factor. Yes, Chuck Norris is linked with a few of these fighters, which is why he was picked as a referee instead of a contestant. Van Damme was Norris’ training partner. I’d say that puts him at about the same level as Chucky. However, Bruce Lee was Norris’ master, and he trained him in Jeet Kune Do, which is Lee’s own made-up style of fighting. This fact alone sets Lee above Van Damme. Lee used to face challenges from other movie martial artists all the time, which is how I’d imagine this fight would begin. However, Lee never lost one of those challenges, and while Van Damme was busy doing one of his slow-motioned punches, the man who was so fast that the cameras couldn’t even catch his moves it going to be laying into him.

Lou Ferrigno vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Here’s the final match of the first round, and it’s got a twist to it as well. Both Arnold and Lou are former body-builders. However, if that’s going to be the only criteria, then Arnold wins. While Ferrigno was the youngest person, at 21, to win the Mr. Universe competition and to follow up the next year as the only one to do it consecutively, Arnold won Mr. Olympia SEVEN TIMES! He’s been called the greatest body-builder EVER, and called the most perfectly formed body in human history. They both have been in tough movies as well. While Arnold was beating up Van Damme’s replacement in Predator and scaring children in Terminator, Lou played the Incredible Hulk. However, this is a fighting tournament, and while body-building and tough roles does mean you’re a beast, it doesn’t mean that you could beat up another beast. So to determine the victor, I ask you, where are they now? Well, Arnold is the governor of California. He sits up in a plush office and practices the pronunciation of Culeefornia-, I mean California. Lou on the other hand runs a personal trainer service, where he become another person to take advantage of the Norris Factor. Yes, he’s Chuck Norris’ personal trainer. At 50, he still benches 400 lbs, although he could do 560 lbs at 25, his prime. So, let’s compare some recent pictures of the two. Lou looks like this, and Arnold looks like this. I guess all that makeup and black leather in Terminator 3 was covering up for something. Arnold gets broken into several pieces in this fight, ala the T-1000 in Terminator 2. He made the mistake of making Lou Ferrigno angry, and you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Hasta la vista, baby!

The Tournament Will Return. Coming soon: The Second Round.
It's shaping up to be an exciting weekend here at The Juice Box - football playoffs, a road trip, The Sandman's Uber-Supreme Championship of Toughness coming up soon (check Drewbacca2's IM for 1st round matchups), and today, another guest column, from Mom:

"In answer to that important 21st-century question "WWJD?" (What Would Jesus Drive?) the answer is clear: MY new car (and I hope I would be Christian enough to loan it to Him...). My new Toyota Prius gets 60 mpg, or so they tell me at the dealership where I bought it yesterday. And no, that's not 60 miles per HOUR, but ... 60 miles per GALLON. Of regular gas. And hey, if He never got it into 4th gear, He'd need no gas at all, because the engine runs on a battery until it reaches 35 mphour.
And no, He wouldn't need to plug it in to recharge it, cuz that battery charges itself with kinetic (or is it potential??) energy. Every time He used the brakes, (like to let a baby squirrel cross the road) the friction (=energy) would recharge the battery.
No, it's not an SUV: this car is a ULEV, an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle. It practically makes the air cleaner when driving through a smoggy area. Like downtown Houston. It has five doors (one is the hatchback) and carries five passengers, so I'll be taking you fans down to Minute Maid Park (that's The Juice Box, Mom)to see the Astros et al. on ONE gallon of gas, round trip.
Pretty miraculous, huh? And if it keeps raining this weekend, I'll see how it drives on the water....."

You can see where Andy and I get our sense of humor from, I hope.

Ok, football predictions (maybe I can go 0-7!):

Carolina at Philly. The Eagles managed a running game last week despite Brian Westbrook, thanks to Donovan McNabb, who finally started scrambling again. He might find it tougher going against the Panthers, though, who have probably the best defensive line in football. I don't think Philly scores much. But it might be enough, because the Eagles have an excellent pass defense, and the Panthers may or may not have Stephen Davis. Can Philly possibly lose two NFC Champhionship Games at home in a row? You bet they can. Panthers, 16-10.

Indy at New England. Indy's coming off a crazy game against the Chiefs, one in which their offense absolutely dominated. But last time I checked, the Chiefs didn't punt either. Indy's D might be picked apart by Tom Brady. The Patriots...well, I don't like the Patriots. They're not really an exciting team to watch. They're kind of...bland. They win close games, they play smart, blah blah. Colts win (please), 27-23.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Apparently some people (girls) who read this blog want to read about stuff other than sports. As opposed as I am to the idea, I'm all about getting as many people (girls) to visit this site as I can, so what the heck. Today's guest writer: Nicole Serago!

"Ok, so I’m one of those people that read this stuff because I have nothing better to do, even if half of it just looks like a bunch of numbers to me. Every once in a while there is the lone sentence about something not baseball related and now that is what I am here to provide. Don’t get me wrong, I like baseball (even if my lifetime baseball viewing experience is pretty limited to things that happen in the Pittsburgh area and one trip to Fenway – but then again, you tell me if you have been to an All Star Game or the world premiere of Angels in the Outfield) but I also think there are other things in life that are worthy of attention.

First priority: Friends. And by that I mean the TV show (not that I don’t love all my actual friends, but that would be a gossip column) which as any person with half a brain knows is in its tenth and final season. So I begin with last night’s episode. To begin, I am ridiculously happy that the last season didn’t end up being the same year as college graduation because I don’t think I could have handled the trauma of both things ending. See, the last season is a lot like senior year. There’s a lot of moving on and saying goodbye (both in the show and for the actual cast). While the majority of the episode was not new footage (meaning they actually all got paid the $1 million for about 5 minutes worth of show time this week), the writers are definitely setting up the last few episodes to be pretty emotional for the true fans. I’ve always thought it would be neat to be able to rewatch special moments from the past like they do in TV flashbacks. I got a new appreciation of an old clip that I had forgotten – no matter what the situation, the end of living with the same roommate for years is one of the hardest goodbyes. So when the question “How can you leave this place?” is posed, the reality of it hits you. The moral of the story: Sometimes the place you’ve gotten used to being isn’t the only place you want to be. And on the lighter side, a fun question from this episode: Which would you rather give up, food or sex?

Now as far as sports go…so the Super Bowl is coming up soon. Better yet, right after that is the first episode of Survivor All-Stars. You know what that means: another dose of Colby for the ladies in case that Schick Quattro commercial wasn’t doing the trick. And as Ankita says “awesome we will have to watch unless it’s in conflict with friends” See, someone knows what’s important."

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Astros update:

According to today's Chronicle, we're going to announce the signing of Orlando Palmeiro today. (On a related note, Greg Norton, JT's pick for utility guy, signed with Detroit.) First the good news: Palmeiro is an excellent fielder, he can play all three outfield spots, he bats left-handed, and he's got a career .357 OBP. The bad news? Six. That's how many career home runs Palmeiro has in nearly 1800 at-bats. That means if he gets 150 at-bats this year, we can expect him to hit half a home run. He can't really steal bases, either - only a 57% mark for his career. Finally, um, we have Jason Lane, and (also according to today's Chronicle) Hidalgo's staying with Houston (yes!), so why, exactly, do we need a 5th OF who is not any better (but more expensive) than Colin Porter? I guess Palmeiro will also be used as a lefty pinch-hitter, but I think Colin Porter could do just as well. I don't like this move much. We still really need a backup IF, preferably one with some power that might actually make a pitcher nervous in late-game situations when we pitch-hit for Ausmus or the pitcher. Someone like Travis Lee (28 years old, 807 OPS last year with 19 HR's).

In other news, I'm getting ready for a big weekend trip to College Station to visit friends. This will rock because: 1) I'm driving up there with Barstool. Road trips of any duration with Barstool are hella fun. Hella fun. 2) We're going to watch football. I like football, even though I don't know crap about it. 3) I'm probably gonna lose some money to JT in poker, which is always fun. and 4) Did I mention Barstool?

Tomorrow I'll make my picks for the Colts-Pats and Panthers-Iggles, but I've gotta pick carefully and try to keep my winless streak alive. Until then, e-mail me with news and I'll put it on here.

P.S. JT showed me that I can actually pick up and move my keyboard around, so I'm typing this from my bed, which is awesome, and the best. Thanks, JT!

Party on, playaz.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

I'm going to take a one-day break from the world of sports and talk about...well, things other than sports.

I read a really great article from The New Yorker the other day about sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). Quick summary: SUVs are unsafe, inefficient, and incredibly popular. Why? Because people believe that they are safer than an average car, despite every test and statistic indicating otherwise. It kinda reminds me from a quote from Sneakers (my favorite movie), in which Ben Kingsley (bad guy) tells Robert Redford (good guy): "The most important thing...isn't reality. It's the perception of reality." SUVs are not safe - but they are perceived to be safe, and thus are selling like hot cakes. Anyway, food for thought.

Oh yeah! Andy's first newspaper article was about Cameran Eubanks, a cast member of the new Real World who is from Anderson, South Carolina, where Andy's interning for a couple/three months. And...she's hot. Really hot. And she's got a cute southern accent. And she likes sailing. So...whatcha waiting for, Andy? Get to it, buddy.

I'm finally starting to get ripping on some grad school apps, but I think I'm going to study statistics and break into the impossible-to-break-into world of professional sports. Sorry, future students.

So we've got two cats at our house, a few next door, and a few neighborhood cats that just kind of wander by our house all the time. Yesterday I went to pick up the mail and there were five cats just hanging out, really lazy, watching me walk to the mailbox. Then they just kinda stopped watching me and went back to hanging out, because they were bored with me. Therefore, cats are cooler than me (and you, too.)

So as you can see, I'm running low on material. If you're reading this, you probably know me, so if you've got something to say, e-mail it to me and I'll run it. Where else can you get that kind of free publicity, I ask you?

Keep it chill, yo.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Andy looks at the 2004 Astros through slightly-rose-colored glasses, predicts the lineup, playoffs, and suggests that Dan Miceli is poop. I make occasional comments (in bold)

"i love all your new posts, but you seem to be making a 180 degree
turnaround from the statistician field. Which is awesome. I've always
thought Bidge and Bags should stay with the Stros, even if it meant
keeping them around for longer than they were valued. I'm sure Billy
Beane and all his followers would have shipped off the old guys long
ago (or at least traded them in their primes), but you're exactly right
about those two having a HUGE effect that isn't reflected in their

They're team leaders, they draw a crowd, they create team identity,
they helped bring Pettitte and Rocket, and they're still DAMN GOOD. I say
Biggio goes .280-.350-.500
(Biggio's slugging % the last three years are .455, .404, and .412)
and swipes at least a dozen bases to reach 500. While I'm at it, Bagwell goes .300-.375-.600 (Bagwell's slugging % the last three years are .568, .518, .524)
and has another 100-rbi season. In fact, I bet Hidalgo finally pieces together two
consecutive monster seasons, but gets overshadowed by Berkman's huge comeback with 50 -- count-em -- homers (he had 25 last year, although he did have 42 the year before) and a 1.000 OPS. Kent goes for a .950 OPS, finally healthy (I think this is pretty likely). Ensberg drops off a bit, but still impresses with an .850 OPS (I think that's very likely). Ausmus uses his second half as a springboard to a .700 OPS season (I hope so), and Everett wins the Gold Glove while putting up a .750 OPS (very possible).

Oh yeah, and the Stros will be the first team in history with four 20
game-winners, and we go 150-12 (all 12 losses are Redding's, despite a
sub-3.00 ERA). And we don't lose a game in the playoffs. (I like it. Seriously, we could win 100 games pretty easily.)

But seriously, might we shop Hidalgo to Baltimore? Who could we get? I
like Jay Gibbons, but not THAT much. The thing is, we don't need
anything that we could get in return for Hidalgo. Maybe a RF, but if we
do shop him, we'll have Lane. I say there's no way we get ridda him,
not after all these emotional signings. It'd leave a bitter aftertaste in
the collective mouth of Houston, and if (should my predictions somehow
miss the mark) our offense falters again, we'll miss his power. (If we do shop Hidalgo, I imagine we'd try to package Roberston with him and get prospects. I also hope we don't - Lane has fewer than 100 AB's in the majors, and we would miss Hidalgo's patience, power, and arm.)

I was pondering our best possible line-up, rotation, bench and bullpen,
and a potential playoff schedule whilst at a school board (read: bored)
meeting in Starr, S.C. Methinks you will partake in imbibing me quaff

1. Biggio .280 - .350 - .500 (probably closer to a .450 slugging)
2. Berkman .300 - .450 - .550
3. Hidalgo .300 - .425 - .525 (Hidalgo's never drawn more than 58 walks, so I don't see a 425 OBP)
4. Bagwell .280 - .375 - .600 (probably closer to .550 slugging)
5. Kent .300 - .400 - .550
6. Ensberg .275 - .350 - .500
7. Ausmus .250 - .300 - .400 (Ausmus will not slug .400)
8. Everett .275 - .325 - .425

Vizcaino .250 - .300 - .400
Lane .280 - .350 - .500
Chavez .250 - .300 - .400
Porter .275 - .325 - .450

Oswalt 2.50, 1.15, 250 K
Pettitte 3.00, 1.20, 180 K (higher ERA)
Clemens 4.00, 1.30, 200 K
Miller 3.00, 1.25, 225 K (higher ERA, fewer K's)
Redding 3.50, 1.30, 150 K

Robertson 4.50, 1.50
Hernandez 3.50, 1.35
Duckworth 3.25, 1.25
Miceli 4.00, 1.30
Saarloos 4.25, 1.40
Stone 3.50, 1.20
Lidge 3.00, 1.15, 100K
Dotel 2.00, 1.00, 100K


Astros over Padres
Phillies over Cubs

Angels over Boston (nooooo...)
K.C. over Yankees (yay!!!)

Astros over Phillies (hopefully we avoid Wagner as much as possible)

K.C. over Angels (I would love this ALCS)

Astros over K.C.

You like? I like. I'm calling it now: K.C. in the playoffs. Anyway,
right now I got 13 pitchers, 12 batters, which I suppose isn't
realistic. I suppose they could send down Robertson or Saarloos. (Or
trade Robertson or Redding). But why on earth would you trade anything
for bench help? This, to me, seems dumb. Aren't bench players like
crappy relievers? They spend very little time actually playing. Why
would you pay anything for a guy who (one figures) might not even get
100 ABs. I say Viz is fine. even better yet are Lane and Porter.
Especially Lane. He shouldn't spend any more time at AAA, as he knows
-- as we know -- that he is ready to play in the majors. But it might do
him good to spend a season as a bench player. he could learn a lot, and
he wouldn't have the immediate pressure of playing full-time. The only
reason the bench plays a factor during a season is filling in for
injured players. And Lane would definitely be the first guy to fill in
should an OF or Bagwell go down, so he should get 300 ABs or so. (If Lane is the 4th OF and the backup 1B, he'll probably get around 200-250 AB's. Orlando Merced, who filled a similar role last year, got 212.)

I like the bullpen, too. I don't know why. The only guy I don;t like is
Miceli, and that's because he is poop. We have Robertson, Hernandez, or
Duckworth could fill in for an ijnured pitcher, and I like all three. I
think Duckworth will really fit in well here. In fact, I can see him
becoming the first link in the Big Three, Vol. II. Think about it.
Duckworth, Lidge, Dotel. Unstoppable. That is, of course, unless Rocket
goes the distance. Which he has done ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTEEN TIMES in
his career. But seriously, Duckworth will benefit from a change of
scenery, Saarloos will finally become the "thinking" pitcher we've all
hoped he could be (in the mold of Maddux), Robertson will struggle but
improve his stats, Hernandez won't know it, but he'll save his elbow
for the rest of his career while pitching well. And Stone will be money.
Amazingly, we'll avoid the no-lefties-in-the-bullpen problem that we
always manage to find ourselves in. Hernandez will be #1 threat against
Jenkins, Patterson, Edmonds, Dunn, etc. And we don't have to waste a
league spot on Gallo or Bland. Not a weak link there (except Miceli of

Do me a favor and look up Oswalt's first 50 starts versus Prior's. I
bet they are eerily similar.

(How about their combined first two seasons instead?

Oswalt: 54 starts, 374.2 IP, 341 H, 86 BB, 352 K's, 30 HR's, 2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
Prior: 49 starts, 327.3 IP, 281 H, 88 BB, 392 K's, 29 HR's, 2.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP
Prior's gets more K's, but otherwise pretty similar. Damn, Prior has a lot of K's.)

Obviously Prior has the better upside, but I bet these two could start a tremendous rivalry. Just imagine if the Cubs traded for, say, Tom Glavine. Think about how close our two rotations
would be:

Oswalt :: Prior (dominant but quiet, fast-working pitchers) Edge: Cubs
Clemens :: Wood (hard-nosed arrogant Texan assholes who throw at
people's heads) Edge: Cubs
Pettitte :: Glavine (crafty lefty veterans with postseason success)
Edge: Astros
Miller :: Zambrano (power pitchers who sometimes lack control,
physically and mentality) Edge: Astros
Redding :: Clement (bearded, short, lanky, ugly: they even look alike!)
Edge: Astros

But after this series, we gotta gear up for the mighty Kansas City
Royals! Boo BYE!"

Monday, January 12, 2004

The trade is official: Roger Clemens, one year, ~ 5 million. One thing that struck me during the Clemens press conference was that it was obvious that Pettitte, Biggio, and Bagwell are a huge reason that Clemens signed. I've tried to write about this before, but here goes: are Biggio and Bagwell getting older? Yes. Are they overpaid? Yes. Is Biggio a good defensive CF? No. Might Bagwell's arm fall off if he throws a relay home? Yes. Does any of that matter? NO. Well, yes, it matters a little. But is there any way we sign Pettitte or Clemens (or Kent last year) without having Biggio and Bagwell (maybe even Ausmus) on our team? I doubt it.

Baseball isn't all about what you do on the field. Biggio and Bagwell are class acts, well-liked, respected guys who play the game the way it was meant to be played. I just used way too many cliches in the last sentence, but today I don't care. Today we signed Roger Clemens, and you can thank Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as much as you can thank Drayton McLane.

Well, thanks to the Packers defense allowing the Eagles to convert on 4th and 26, I went 0-4 this past weekend with my football playoff predictions. This teaches me one important thing: I should never, ever, bet on sports games. Ever.

All the games were pretty close, leading me to think that football (unlike basketball and baseball) really does have the competitive balance thing down pretty well. Anyone think the Panthers and Packers would meet in the NFC Championship Game at the beginning of the year? Anyone? Well, I didn't.

The big Astros news today (press conference at 2pm) is that Houston has signed Roger Clemens to a one-year deal worth 5 million. I've heard the 'Stros will try to let Clemens make most of his starts at home, in front of his family and friends. This is, in my opinion, an excellent deal for the Astros: 1) Clemens will practically pay for himself. He's a local, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and probably the best pitcher in the modern (post-WWII) era. The fans should come in droves to see him pitch. 2) Clemens is, however, 41 years old. Exercising the caution that the Astros apparently were unwilling to use with Brad Ausmus, signing older players to one-year deals is smart. But Clemens isn't your run-of-the-mill 41 year old. He's never missed significant time due to injury, he's in great shape, and he struck out 190 batters in 211.2 innings last year. In fact, don't just take my word for it - go to his career stats page and look in awe. Roger Clemens has been an amazingly good, amazingly durable pitcher for nearly as long as I've been alive. I really can't believe the Astros will have 2/5 of the 2003 Yankees starting rotation in 2004. It's insane. Here are your 2004 Astros starting pitchers, with 2003 IP, ERA, and K's:

1. Roy Oswalt (127.2, 2.97, 108)
2. Roger Clemens (211.2, 3.91, 190)
3. Andy Pettitte (208.1, 4.02, 180)
4. Wade Miller (187.1, 4.13, 161)
5. Tim Redding (176, 3.68, 116)

That rotation scares me. It should scare any non-Astro hitter in the National League. That is an absolutely dominant, better than the Cubs, better than the Red Sox, better than the A's starting rotation.

The bad news? Ummmm...sorry, Carlos Hernandez, Brandon Duckworth, and Jeriome Roberston - have a seat in the bullpen or AAA, 'cause we just signed the best pitcher of the last thirty years.

If the Astros can get a decent bench soon (which could be easily accomplished by siging a backup IF and a backup C), they may well run away with the National League next year.

It's a good day to be an Astros fan.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Damn. So, a day later, but no wiser, I am currently 0-3 in my football playoff picks, while JT is a cool 3-0. I am ashamed. I could say something like "Well, all the games were close, and if Mike Martz wasn't incredibly bad at clock management and if Drew Bennett makes that %@%@ catch and if the Chiefs defense could not be painfully crappy, then....." But NO. No excuses. I guess that's why I think of this blog as a baseball blog, first and foremost: because I should write about what I know, and I clearly know NOTHING about football.

Right, JT?

Jt: Damn straight. You will bow to me and acknowledge my football superiority. I own you in baseball too. Also, it's too bad I'm not the GM of the Astros because we'd have Greg Norton instead of John Valentin as our new bench player. Someday! As for now, I will go for the quadruple...4-0 in my predictions...every one opposite of you and every one working out for me so far. I own!

Barstool: The only reason I'm 2 and 1 is because I had a sympathetic pick for the Titans. So I wanna see McNair move on....oh well. I'll take the loss. I know nothing of baseball, but I know far more than Jack about football....even though I've only been following the game for three years. Jack picked Kansas City.....KANSAS CITY against the Colts.....I swear, he smokes crack. He's doing lines right now. I wish he'd put out the light in his's smokin' up the joint. I'm going to go play tennis now...but look for Green Bay to beat the Eagles tonight. J.T. says otherwise. Jack picked the Pack also...which is why they'll probably lose now. He's jinxed everyone so far. boo BYE!

Well, that's the guest column for today. See what my friends are like? Now you probably understand why I have no self-esteem. Well, gotta go. Weekend's a-wastin'.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

I've got a big day planned (helping Dad take down the Xmas lights, watching 6 hours or so of football, and playing some tennis), so let's get right to it.

1. The Mets are reportedly close to signing Vladimir Guerrero to a 3 year, ~40 million dollar deal. First of all, let me say: HOLY CRAP. That would be an unbelievably good deal for any team, much less one with the payroll that the Mets have. If they do sign Guerrero, suddenly their OF is Cliff Floyd, Mike Cameron, Vladi. I am damn glad the Astros aren't in the NL East, and I've got a hunch that is going to be an absolutely brutal division next year.

2. Some smart-ass vet school kid suggested to me that the Astros go after Greg Norton. Here are Norton's batting splits against RHP (he really can't hit left handed pitching very well) over the last 3 years: .254 / .324 / .503 with 26 HR's and 95 RBI' 461 at-bats! Yeah, that is slightly inflated by playing half his games at Planet Coors, but: 1) Norton can play any infield position 2) He's left-handed 3) He's one of the best pinch-hitters in baseball. Greg Norton is not a great baseball player. But the guy whose at-bats he'd probably be taking, Jose Vizcaino, is significantly worse in every way. Viz's OPS the last 3 years with the Astros: 666, 739, 646. We need a guy like Greg Norton badly. Let's get him. He can't be that expensive.

Well, I'm off. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

Friday, January 09, 2004

"I feel found."

That's a quote from House of Sand and Fog, a really good, thoughtful (kinda American Beauty + My Life as a House / 2) movie. And it's got Ben Kingsley, one of the top ten greatest living actors. So go see it. Jennifer Connelly provides the eye candy.

Anyway, I thought I'd talk about football today. It's the quarterfinals of "The Tournament", as everyone seems to be calling the NFL playoffs (although in my opinion, March Madness is the real Tournament.) I'll go through each game, throw some stats at you, and give you my opinion.

1. Carolina at St. Louis.

Carolina's coming off a complete thrashing of the Cowboys, one in which they racked up 380 yards (most of that in their blowout 1st half), had 0 turnovers, 0 penalties, and basically kicked the @%^$% out of Dallas. On the other hand, Marc Bulger has never started and lost a game at home, and the Rams as a whole have only lost 4 games at home over the last 3 years. Marshall Faulk is rested and should get at least 25 touches. I say the Rams keep that gaudy home record intact. St. Louis, 31-14.

2. Tennessee at New England.

The Titans are coming off an emotional win at Baltimore, one in which 44-year old Gary Anderson nailed a 46-yard field goal (by a cool half a yard) as time expired. Steve McNair is having a great year, although his 1st half was much better, but the real unsung hero of this team is their defense, which has stopped the run and pressured the quarterback all year. The Patriots are undefeated at home, have allowed the fewest points in the NFL, and have the constantly underrated Tom Brady at the helm. Too bad they're going to lose tomorrow. Tennessee, 17-13.

3. Indy at K.C.

I'm still not that impressed with the Colts. The only good team they've beaten all year is the Titans. However, they are 7-1 on the road, and Kansas City isn't playing that well...or are they? Yeah, they had bad losses to Denver and Minnesota (giving up 45 points in both games) down the stretch, but they've still got Priest Holmes, and they're undefeated at home (who isn't, by the way?) K.C. in a shootout, 38-34.

4. Green Bay at Philly. Green Bay's got Brett Favre, fumblin' stumblin' rumblin' Ahman Green, and....well, that's about it. Philly has Donovan McNabb but no Brian Westbrook, great pass D, but no run D. They gave up 192 yards to Green earlier this year, and I don't think they can stop him this time either. Green Bay wins it, 24-14.

Well, that's it. I'm gonna go outside for a while. Oh yeah - my brother's taking over AIM (1st 3 stories only). Give 'em hell, bro.


Thursday, January 08, 2004

It's a rainy January day here in Houston, when a young man's fancy turns to...Brad Ausmus??

Brad Ausmus's re-signing with the Astros (1 mil '04, 3 mil '05) has been a hotly debated topic in the past month or so. I'd like to take an in-depth look at what he brings to the Astros.

First of all, and there's no getting around this, Ausmus was an offensive sinkhole last year:

He posted a .229 / .303 / .291 line in 450 at-bats last year.


Those numbers are good for a 594 OPS, a .209 GPA (courtesy of Aaron Gleeman), and a .209 EQA (courtesy of Baseball Prospectus)

Regardless of the metric used, Ausmus was awful at the plate last year. However, (and this better be a big however, when you're slugging .291) he is still excellent defensively. I don't think anyone would argue that he saved the Astros runs last year with his defense. But how, exactly, do you measure this?

1. You stop the running game.

Ausmus threw out 37 of 105 runners this season, a 35% caught-stealing rate. This is down from his best years (2000, 2001) where his CS% was around 50%, but it's still fairly good. How good? Other catchers and their CS% in 2003:

Bengie Molina 44%
Toby Hall 43%
Charles Johnson 42%
Paul LoDuca 41%
Damian Miller 39%
Brandon Inge (Ausmus's successor in Detroit) 36%
Brad Ausmus 35%
Ivan Rodriguez 33%
Ramon Hernandez 33%

Anyway, you get the idea. Ausmus was slightly-above league average in CS%.

2. You call a good game.

This one's almost impossible to measure. Yes, you can look at CERA (Catcher's ERA), but Ausmus (whose CERA was 3.68) caught a disproportionate number of innings by Oswalt / Lidge / Dotel / Wagner, while rarely catching Jeriome Roberston, for example. What can't be argued is that Astros pitchers and pitching coach Burt Hooton have universally praised Ausmus for handling the pitchers well. One thing that can't be measured by good ol' statistics is the confidence that Astros pitchers have to throw pitches that other catchers might not be able to handle. Lidge's slider comes to mind. Maybe that doesn't make much of a difference, but maybe it does.

3. Baseball Prospectus 2001 said that the Astros signing Brad Ausmus was a hidden cost of having Jeff Bagwell on your team. I don't think there's any doubt that Bagwell and Biggio like playing with Ausmus. In addition, having a respected guy like Brad Ausmus behind the plate surely helped the Astros land Andy Pettitte. Again, neither of these factors can be measured, but they should both be mentioned.

4. Finally, it's not like the Astros have Mike Piazza sitting on the bench. John Buck, catching prospect of the future, has yet to have a full year at AAA. Raul Chavez has a career 658 OPS. There aren't significantly better options in-house; we could make a trade for a catcher, but the Astros seem reluctant to do so.

In the end, despite Ausmus having reached near-useless levels at the plate (he did post a 344 OBP in the 2nd half last year), I think he's worth retaining. He's still a defensive asset, he's well-liked, and he's not costing us that much. I do wish we had only signed him for one year with a club option for the 2nd, though: I think John Buck should be ready next year.

Well, that's it for now. Hopefully Ausmus can put up something like a 240 / 320 / 330 line this year, rebounding to his 2002 level. I think we'd all take that. In the meantime, think of him as a hidden cost of having Bagwell / Biggio / Pettitte - when you think of him that way, it's not that big of a cost to pay. Plus, as my Mom says, 'He's so cute.'

Tomorrow: Football playoff preview!

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I just realized that in my earlier summary of my links, I didn't even mention the most influential of all:

Astros Daily - an extremely well-run, thoughtful Astros site, with lots of great pictures, graphics, stats, message boards, and links. Ray Kerby has done a phenomenal job with this site, and it is undoubtedly the best place on the 'Net to interact with fellow Astros fans. If my site is one guy on a soapbox, AstrosDaily would be a town hall discussion and a friendly conversation at your local bar rolled into one.
How's it going? I'm Jack Wade, pleased to meet you. I'm a huge Houston Astros fan, but (truth be told) an even bigger fan of baseball in general. I wasn't that keen on it for a while, but I was a math major in college, and I got into statistics which led to a baseball stats project which led to Bill James and Rob Neyer and Baseball Prospectus and so on and so forth etc. etc.

I do occasionally think non-baseball thoughts, so I reserve the right to post about whatever's on my mind.

However you found your way here, though, welcome, enjoy, check out the links, and feel free to tell me what you think by Contact-ing Me at the bottom of the page.

I added a few links at the bottom of the page. A short description of each:

Baseball Primer - The Grand Central Junction of baseball information on the web. Their 'Clutch Hits' message board is fantastic, although I'm most impressed by their discussion that's not related to baseball at all.

Baseball Prospectus - Most of their content is subscription-based now, but some is still free. I'm not a member yet, but probably will be soon. They publish their annual Baseball Prospectus book every February or March; I've got every one since 1999.

Aaron's Baseball Blog - Aaron's a real inspiration to me - he really knows his stuff, he's a huge Twins fan (so is my Dad), he goes to U of Minn (my brother goes to Northwestern), and he's only 21! (I'm 22.) He's got new posts all the time, and they're always informative, funny, and lucid. Stop by a lot.

U.S.S. Mariner - I guess the Mariners are probably my favorite team in the AL, because I *almost* got an internship with them. Well, maybe not, but I still like them. These guys know more about the Mariners than anyone, including (especially) the new GM, Bill Bavasi. This website is a bit sadder and a lot more sarcastic than it used to be, but I still visit all the time.

Ok, enough for now. Oh yeah,

Contact Me - tell me what you think.